November 15, 2001
High Speed Trains of the World
by William K. Fawcett
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library
pioneered the high-speed rail program in the early 1960s, and France and then Germany led
the way in Europe. The development of
lightweight rolling stock has contributed to achieving scheduled speeds up to 186 mph, but
the biggest improvements have been the construction of dedicated tracks with high radius
countries, mainly in Europe, have elected to avoid the very high cost of new roadbeds by
using tilt trains to increase speed (125 mph) on their existing, more curving roadbeds.
distances between population centers are about 500 miles or less, high-speed trains have
shown that they can compete with airplanes. Trip
times are somewhat greater, but the cost is generally lower, so the traveler can decide
distances and railroad management are holding back high-speed development in the US.
Biography of Bill Fawcett
Albany, Indiana, 1923
from New Albany High School
Chemical Engineering from Purdue
World War II
service in Europe
service in the Pentagon
wife Marty and three daughters along the way
from Lockheed Corporation
In the 1950s the general
feeling was that railway passenger service was destined to go the way of the dinosaur. For 50 years the United States has proved that the
prediction was not far off. Those outlooks were based on the assumption that railway
transportation could not achieve an average scheduled speed greater than 100 miles per
hour. If that were true, the railway would
never be capable of competing with airlines except for short trips. Airplanes were already many times faster
than trains, and the era of the jet was still on the horizon. True, the airplanes speed advantage is
offset somewhat by the travel times to and from airports, the required pre-boarding
arrival time and the normal baggage delay at the other end.
The other competitor, the automobile, was as fast or faster than trains at
that time, and a lot more convenient. Even then,though,urban congestion was beginning to
be considered a negative factor for the auto.
Railroad planners everywhere had to
face up to the challenge: rail travel must be
comfortable, reasonably priced, on-time and able to reach the travelers destination
about as quickly as an airplane would.
want to say at the outset that this paper is possible only because material is available
on the Internet.
Japan was driven to the concept of
the super fast train. Its large cities and
high population density have made the automobile alternative especially unattractive. In May 1956 the Japanese National Railways created
a team to study the feasibility of very fast passenger trains, called bullet trains or the
Shinkansen in Japanese. There were some serious technical issues in addition to the
obvious financial issues. Two of the major
technical questions addressed by the study team were:
would the very fast train adhere to the track? and can a roadbed be strong enough to survive the
pounding? Both were answered in the
affirmative by testing. It is significant that the ability of locomotives to propel trains
at the necessary speeds was a given, and not an issue.
Two and a half years later the
project was authorized to link Tokyo and
Osaka, a distance of 322 miles, with high speed rail (All distances and speeds will be
given in miles and miles per hour.) Two years
later, in October 1964, regular service was started with 60 trains daily, at top speeds of
131 mph, the highest in the world at that time. To
keep the achievement in perspective, however, the trip took 4 hours, so the average speed
was only 80 mph, but still a respectable figure 40 years later. The Tokyo-Osaka run time
has since been reduced to 2 ½ hours, or 130 mph average.
The goal of attaining trip times competitive with airlines has been achieved
for the 322-mile run.
The MAP shows how the high speed
lines cover the 1000-mile length of the islands. Today there are 5 Japanese main lines
serviced by trains running at top speeds between 160 and 186 mph. Japan has clearly led
the way in high speed rail. The system carries over 130 million passengers annually, runs
about 300 trains daily on the mainline Tokyo-Osaka run, has never had an accident or a
derailment, and maintains a zero mortality rate for passengers and crews. The on-time performance on this route is an
average deviation from schedule of 0.6 minutes per train, regardless of rain, snow and
Lets look at how this
remarkable record has been achieved. Bullet trains consist of 4 to 16
permanently-attached, electrically powered cars. Each car is equipped with an
electric motor driving system so there is no locomotive pulling or pushing the train. The Japanese system is better for curvy track and
short inter-city distances which make it necessary to accelerate and decelerate
frequently. It is a good braking method
because when power is reduced to decelerate, the electricity generated by magnetic
induction in each car functions as a brake.
Two constraints on the Japanese
development have been unique to that country. The
first is the numerous curves resulting from the terrain and the population density. Although the terrain chosen for the right-of-ways
is relatively flat, 40% of the Tokyo-Osaka mileage consists of curves. The sharpest curves have radii of only 2500 yards
and comprise about 12 ½ % of the total length. They
could never have achieved the required shortening of travel time if the maximum speed was
attained only on the straight-line portions. Therefore
the speed on the sharp curves had to be raised as much as possible to achieve the goal of
2 hours 30 minutes.
The second constraint was
environmental: vibration and noise. The
routes pass through one city after another, so vibration and noise effects on neighbors
had to be accounted for. The requirement is
noise of less than 70 phons at points 75 feet from the rail line. Sources of noise are wheel/rail contact, the
pantograph on the roof, and aerodynamic air friction.
These sources generally vary directly with weight, so weight reduction is
vital. Some of the improvements include use
of aluminum structural members instead of steel and change from a DC operating system to
AC. Another consideration has been structural rigidity necessary to withstand atmospheric
forces acting on the body, especially when passing through tunnels and when meeting
Japanese started the high speed train movement in the 1960s and have
been in the forefront ever since. While speed
records have sometimes been overtaken by the French, Japan continues to operate the most
efficient high speed system in the world. Its
trains are typically full.
The latest year for which I can find
data is 1997. Japan had the fastest scheduled
leg, 120 miles from Hiroshima to Kokura, in 44 minutes, or 164 mph, at 187.5 mph max
speed. Japan also held the worlds speed
record, a test run of 277 mph.
Clearly, Shinkansen roadbeds are
double-tracked and handle passenger trains only. Even then I have difficulty accepting the
quoted average deviation from schedule of only 36 seconds for the 322 mile Tokyo-Osaka
run. Perhaps I am too accustomed to US trains
that are hours late.
Perhaps there are two double-tracks
on the Tokyo-Osaka route. Three hundred
trains per day, although they may not all be terminal-to-terminal, equate to an average 12
½ per hour, 6 ¼ each direction per hour. Thats a little over a train every 10 minutes
all day and night. When rush hours and late
nights are considered, the spacing must be
more like 4 or 5 minutes during rush hours. Hence
maybe two double-tracks. This analysis
applies only to the busiest segment: Tokyo-Osaka.
The writer has seen no mention of
consideration of the tilting train in the Japanese literature. If that is truly the case, it seems unusual
because the Japanese are faced with much more curved track than any other country, and the
tilting train is an answer for high speed on curves because it compensates for the
centrifugal force created on the passengers.
We have seen that the Japanese have
led the way to high speed rail, beginning in the mid-60s and continuing today. From their experience and that of other countries,
which will be covered shortly, we can conclude that the following attributes of a high
speed rail system are either necessary or desirable:
- Right-of-way at least double-tracked
- No road crossings at grade level
- Right-of-way fenced off
- No freight or local passenger traffic
These items are safety considerations
to minimize the possibility of a train hitting some object on the tracks.
- Curves of at least 4 mile radius and
Tight curves greatly restrict the
speed of high-speed trains; curves can be
banked more because conventional trains do not run on dedicated high-speed lines, and
high-speed trains rarely stop because of a signal.
- Wide spacing between parallel tracks,
especially on curves and in tunnels
Tunnels and passing trains impose a
severe structural problem. Large pressure
changes result, causing potential damage to windows and structural members. Some countries whose terrain dictates many tunnels
restrict speeds in the tunnels.
The advantages of electric propulsion
and its almost universal use are detailed later.
.Fixed train-set means a train is
made up of a fixed number of cars, which are normally not
lets see how other countries have built on the highly successful Japanese experience
with high-speed rail to achieve similar results.
The French have led the way in
Europe. Starting with studies and experiments
in the early 1970s, the French have designed and built a TGV system into a
high-speed network which already connects most of the major cities of the nation. TGV in French is Train a Grande
Vitesse, or in English high-speed train.
The French have learned from the experience of the Japanese and introduced
improvements of their own. (Let me insert
here that the information available on the Internet for the TGV is much more extensive
than for the Japanese system. Therefore most
of the descriptions which follow are necessarily based on the French.)
The MAP shows that the TGV system
radiates from Paris in all directions. It is
part of the London to Paris and Brussels Eurostar network using the tunnel under the
English Channel; it reaches Marseille and
Nice in the south; Le Mans and Tours, and eventually Brest and Bordeaux on the west; and Geneva and eventually Strasbourg on the east. It even includes a bypass around Paris for through
north/ south trains and a route to Euro Disneyland.
Its total high-speed track, called Ligne a Grande Vitesse, has reached about1500 miles,
Mentioning Geneva introduces another
aspect of western Europes growing
high-speed networks which span national boundaries. That
is part of a new multi-nation system called the Thalys.
Participating countries are Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Paris to Brussels has already been mentioned; 24
trains run each way each day between those two cities, in 1 hour twenty-five minutes;
every half-hour in peak periods. Travel time between Brussels and Marseille on the
Mediterranean, a distance of 796 miles, has
been reduced to four and a half hours, and from Brussels to Geneva to five and a quarter
hours. The Thalys service has been extended now to Amsterdam, with 7 round trips from
Brussels each day. Of especial interest is
the extension east from Brussels through the Ardennes to Cologne and Dusseldorf in
Now lets talk about speed. How fast are high-speed trains? The Japanese and
the French have played leapfrog for many years with the worlds speed record. No other country has seriously participated in the
race. Two aspects of speed records are
involved: first, the trial runs over
relatively short distances under controlled conditions;
an analogy is a track meet; this
excites the technical personnel involved, but doesnt sell tickets; and second, scheduled train service over
significant distances, does sell tickets.
I cited earlier the 1997 the record
for the fastest scheduled service held by the Japanese for the Hiroshima-Kokura run, a
distance of 120 miles, in 44 minutes, an
average of 164 miles per hour. The French
followed closely with a Lille-Charles de Gaulle Aiport run,
127 miles, in 48 minutes, an average of 159 miles per hour. Top speeds for both was 186 miles per hour. The newest scheduled service record was set by the TGV on May 26th
of this year: Calais at the end of the
Chunnel to Marseilles, a distance of 667
miles, in 3 hours 29 minutes, an average of 191
mph. Highest speed is 210 mph. The Japanese also may have increased its fastest
scheduled service since 1997, but I could find no indication of it.
Now lets see what has made it
possible to attain such high speeds. The
importance of the track and roadbed has already been alluded to. Improvement in this area has come in two areas: stiffness of the track and roadbed; and weight reduction of rolling stock. At the start of the high-speed era it was
recognized that locomotives and rolling stock could attain the desired speeds, but only at
the cost of extreme damage to the track causing unacceptable maintenance costs. This was caused by heavy equipment and track
deflection, aggravated by the weight and speed.
The French have attacked weight
reduction in every possible area. Substituting
lightweight, strong materials in this technological age is obvious. A significant improvement in weight was the
elimination of one whole set of bogies, or trucks, per car by sharing a bogie between the
two adjacent cars. This means that the cars
are semi-permanently joined and cannot be switched on or off during a trip. This leads to
the configuration commonly adopted: fixed train configurations. Many other studies and
experiments have been conducted to improve stability, noise, vibration-damping and
Locomotives are universally driven by
electric power. This is natural in Europe and
Japan, which historically have had electric main lines.
Electric locomotion has many advantages over the only alternative, diesel. The most obvious is that while a diesel engine
carries its fuel on board, electric power is
generated offline at a fixed generating plant. Electric
locomotives are powered by transformers which receive power from pantographs on top of the
train contacting the overhead power-supplying catenary. The transformers are among the
heaviest parts of the train, but they are much lighter than the diesel engine. One recent advancement, for example, in transformer technology, replacing copper wires
with cobalt-alloyed steel and aluminum sheets, has reduced the mass from 11 metric tons to
7.5 metric tons.
The third advantage of the electric
locomotive is to lessen the load on mechanical brakes by using "dynamic" braking
systems which convert mechanical energy from the motors back into electricity and back up
into the catenary. During braking, operation
of the electric motors is reversed, so that instead of consuming electric power the motors
It takes no imagination to realize
that braking in an emergency situation presents a huge mechanical problem. The kinetic energy of the fast-moving train, which
must be dissipated as heat in the braking system, grows as the square of the speed. The newest TGVs combine three braking systems:
disk brakes similar to automobiles and airplanes, with new heat-dissipating materials; regenerative brakes, as described above; and the
newest system, magnetic induction brakes, which dissipate heat into the rails. These last
two new systems account for about 90% of total braking power.
High-speed performance (a mile in 18
seconds) has shown that the speed makes the introduction of in-cab signals mandatory to
supplement the roadside signals. The signals
anticipate situations 4 miles ahead to allow the driver to decelerate smoothly for
Reference has been made several times
to the fact that the railroad track has required more upgrade than the rolling stock. Curves, strength to resist the pounding, and
elimination of grade crossings are areas which have received attention. The Internet contains a very detailed description
of the French program to lay new track for its TGVs;
these are called Ligne a Grande Vitesse, or high speed line. I am going to quote liberally from the Internet
source to summarize the process. First, the
roadbed is carved into the landscape, using standard earth-moving equipment. Then bridges, overpasses and underpasses,
tunnels, and drainage facilities are constructed. Next a layer of compact gravel is spread
and compacted to support a rubber-tired gantry crane, which lays 60-foot panels of
temporary track on wooden ties. Visualize a
model railroad track section, 60 feet long. A
diesel-powered locomotive now delivers sections of continuous welded rail; each section is
between 660 and 1310 feet long. The rail is
standard for high-stress track: 40 lb per
A gantry crane riding on the new
rails picks up the 60-foot panels and lays down sets of 30 sets of pre-spaced (24
inches)TGV ties, which are reinforced concrete 7feet 10 inches long and weighing 540 lbs. They are equipped to receive spring fasteners and
a 3/8 inch rubber pad. A machine positions
the rails on the rubber pads, and workers bolt down the spring fasteners with a torque
These long sections of rail are then
welded together. This eliminates the
click-click-click with which we are all familiar. The
weld is thermite, a mixture of aluminum powder and iron oxide which reacts to produce
iron, aluminum oxide and a very large amount of heat. Next a bed of ballast 12 inches deep
is forced under the ties in several passes. When
the rails are final-aligned, the first of two tracks is then complete. When the second track is completed, the overhead
electric catenary is installed on steel I-beams set in concrete. All of this results in rides so smooth
and noise-free that the passenger is not aware the train is moving.
Safety is a concern of all the
countries adopting high-speed rail. We have
seen that the Japanese have not had an accident or a derailment in almost 40 years of
operation. It has a zero mortality rate for
passengers and crew. This is a remarkable
The French have an equally
impressive, if not so long, safety record with TGVs operating on high-speed lines, the
LGVs, which represent about 25% of the total TGV mileage.
Minor mechanical problems and animals on the track have occurred, but no
deaths and only one minor injury (broken window) have happened. On the other hand where the TGVs have operated at
slower speeds on regular track, there have been a half-dozen occasional accidents,
primarily involving semi-trucks and trailers stuck on the track at grade crossings. Several have been at speeds great enough to cause
derailment of the locomotive and the leading passenger cars. In each case the bogie-sharing design has been
credited with keeping the balance of the cars on the track.
Each incident has been written up,
and the stories make interesting reading.
Two current developments merit
mention: the introduction of double-decked passenger cars on the heavily traveled Paris to
Lyon run. That route is so heavily scheduled
that the duplex car was developed instead of adding more scheduled runs. Its seating capacity is 45% greater and its
aerodynamic drag only 4% greater, so it is paying off.
The other development is the
evaluation of the tilting train. An idea
which would allow greater speed on existing curves without causing passenger discomfort is
to tilt the car toward the center of the curve. France
has found the advantage to be so small it is not worth the investment, although Germany
and other European countries are pursuing it.
Financial restraint has slowed the
construction of new LGV lines, but a number are still in the plans. Construction of one, the 315-mile Paris to
Strasbourg LGV, was begun in 1999 and will be finished in 2005. Extensions of current LGVs to their ultimate
terminals will continue. Two new
international links are planned: a 157-mile LGV Lyon to Turin, Italy, including a long
tunnel; a 213-mile LGV link to Barcelona,
Eurostar is one of the great
achievements of the 1990s. I have included it
in the discussion of France, because a very high percentage of the trackage is French and
TGV rolling-stock is used, but it represents an historic high-point in international
political, financial cooperation. France,
the United Kingdom and Belgium are the principals. The
system is possible because the French and British governments committed to constructing
the tunnel under the English Channel, the Chunnel, which is the body of water
which saved the United Kingdom in World War II. The joint endeavor was taken at great
financial and political risk when the
agreement was signed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Francois Mitterand
in January 1986.
Construction began in December 1987
and boring completed in June 1991. The final
cost was $5 billion. Three tunnels were
constructed, two for trains and the center one for maintenance and emergency, of which
there has been one serious one. The tunnels
are 19 miles long, extending from Folkestone in Kent to Calais in France.
The Eurostar sets of trains, each
with 18 cars seating 766 passengers, are derivations of TGVs. They run between the Waterloo Station in London,
the Gare du Nord in Paris and Bruxelles-Midi in Brussels.
Paris-London service operates 24 times per day each way. The 309 miles are traversed in 2 hours 54 minutes,
for an average speed of 107 miles per hour. While this isnt bad average speed, it is
surprisingly low; and there is an
explanation. The 68-mile route between London and the tunnel are
normal British rail. At top speed of 100 mph,
the Eurostar averages only about 60 because of the roadbed and local traffic. The speed through the Chunnel is 100 mph,
restricted for safety considerations. Then on
French soil the average speed from Calais to Paris is 160 mph. The British expect to complete their new
high-speed link to the tunnel in 2003. This will reduce the time to Paris to 2 hours 20
minutes, at an average speed of 133 mph.
The London-Brussels service, which
branches at Lille in northern France, operates 10 times daily in 2 hours 40 minutes, at an
average speed of 89 mph over the 238 miles.
When the new British high-speed
roadbed is complete, the time will be lowered to 2 hours, or 120 average mph.
Eurostar has achieved a 90% on-time
result. It enjoys about 60% market share on
the London-Paris segment and 45% on London-Brussels.
Nevertheless, ridership has been below predictions. Ironically, this is attributed to the trip times,
which until the UK speed is raised, are not short enough to virtually eliminate air
competition. Profitability has suffered
because of this and the huge fees paid for use of the Chunnel.
Good data are available to compare
the time and cost of air vs. rail for London-Paris. Air
fare is $120 round trip and the flight is one hour.
Rail fare is $75 and the trip takes not quite three hours, with the prospect
of reduction to 2 hours twenty minutes when the British track upgrade is complete. Rail is competitive.
Like both Japan and France, German
rail and auto traffic is primarily north-south. Unlike
France, which is relatively flat and has few tunnels, Germany is comparative hilly and
mountainous, with many tunnels.
Germanys project to develop its
high speed system started in the 1980s and resulted in the beginning of service in 1991.
This lagged the French program, but the Germans have been catching up. The MAP shows the extent to which the high-speed
network covers the country. Germany calls its
high speed trains the ICE, for Inter-City Express.
The first ICE line in 1991 opened two
segments of what would become Hamburg-Frankfurt-Munich, virtually the entire length of the
country. It was completed the next year and
extended to Basel, Switzerland, the next year and to Lucerne the following year. New lines to Berlin from Cologne and Hamburg
allowed ICE service to begin in 1997. High
speed service between Cologne and Amsterdam began last year. Germany is also a partner in the Thalys network on
the Brussels/ Liege/ Aachen/Cologne/Dusseldorf segment.
One writer cited the ICE as the most luxurious rides he has ever taken,
better than the TGV.
Several countries (Japan, USA,
Germany and Britain) have shown interest in magnetic levitation propulsion systems for
trains. Only Germanys interest appears
to have been serious when it created a test vehicle and test track, but its interest has
waned because of the enormous cost of construction per mile and the general economic
The maglev train floats on a magnetic
field 10 mm (0.4 inch) above a guidance track and is propelled by a linear induction
motor. Electro-magnets are embedded in the
guideway to allow the magnetism to switch, pulling the train along. Whereas the standard
ICE train can operate at slower speed on regular track beyond the end of its high- speed
track, the potential of the maglev train is limited to connecting two very large
Germany had the only serious accident
involving any high speed train, and it was devastating.
On June 3rd, 1998, an ICE from Munich derailed near Eschede,
north of Hamburg, at a speed of 125 mph. I
quote from a vivid Internet description: The accident caused 100 deaths and 88
injuries. . . The accident was caused by a
broken wheel tire on the third axle of the first passenger car. It was a new type of wheel
designed for high-speed service. About 3 ½
miles before the accident, the tire broke, but did not cause a derailment yet. About 200 yards before the bridge, the tire was
caught in the flange guide of a switch, which broke off and derailed the first car to the
right. 100 yards later, the derailed axle
hit another switch, which caused the next bogie to derail.
The third car went far enough from the track to destroy a bridge pillar, and
separated from the train, triggering the emergency brake in both parts of the train. The bridge came down slowly enough for the fourth
car to pass without being hit, but the fifth car was cut in half, the sixth was buried
under the bridge, and the rest of the train crashed into it.
ICE high speed service is a cut below
comparable service in Japan and France. The
fastest scheduled segment is between Fulda and Wurzburg at 125 mph. Most major segments are in the 90 to 100 mph
category. This is the result of curves,
tunnels and frequent stops.
Germany has what is probably the most
intensive rail network in the world. In order
to upgrade the service on existing routes without incurring the enormous costs necessary
to build new ICE roadbeds, Germany has been investigating the tilting train.
Railway planners deciding on a new
system can invest either in either a new expensive high-speed roadbed with standard
rolling stock or in expensive tilting mechanisms to allow them to run on existing lines. France found that the tilting train isnt
necessary, but Germany and most other European countries are pursuing the tilt train.
I suspect that the tilting train is
really the only completely new information in this paper, at least to many of you. Cars
are tilted toward the center of the curve to offset the centrifugal force created when a
train negotiates a curve. On existing tracks
train speed is often restricted on curves because otherwise passengers are forced
uncomfortably to the sides of their seats by centrifugal force. Since that force varies as the square of velocity,
increasing train speed on existing curves raises the discomfort factor disproportionately
unless some means are employed to offset it. That
is the function of the tilting car. The top
PHOTO shows the effect on a train in motion, where the lead car is tilted more than the
track. The bottom left shows the tilting plate, to which the car structure is attached,
and which itself is attached to the bogie. The
bottom right shows the relation of the tilted car to the track. Tilting is controlled by hydraulic actuators
acting on commands from a computer sensing the need to tilt. 8 degrees from vertical is the maximum tilt.
Germany has been very seriously
working on the tilt train since the early 1990s because it offers the potential of trains
operating up to 140 mph on 95% of the existing track at reasonable cost. The improvement
on curves is 20%. Their use has been
especially effective in the mountainous regions of middle and southern Germany. There are 76 tilt train sets in operation and 171
basic ICE train sets, which indicates the importance of the tilt train to the
German operation. It should also be mentioned
that there are 20 tilt trainsets diesel-powered for operation on non-electrified lines.
The geography of Italy closely
resembles Japans because it is long and narrow, north and south. Each country is about 1000 miles long, and each
capital is located near the middle. In 1970
Italy purchased tilting technology when Britain abandoned its Advanced Passenger Train
program and combined it with its own tilting experiments.
Many years passed before the first operational vehicle emerged in 1987. It was called the Pendolino, and it became the
prototype not only for the Italian rail system but also for many other countries in
Europe, as we shall see. There are 35 Pendolino trainsets in operation on existing tracks
primarily in east-west direction
Since 1996 Italy has developed its
524-mile trunk line down the spine of the peninsula from Milan on the north to Naples, and
serving the major population centers of Bologna, Florence and Rome. This trunk line is a high-speed line using 60
trainsets of Italian-manufactured rolling stock similar to the TGV and ICE. It is called Eurostar Italia, and when completed
will be integrated into the European rail system. The
scheduled speeds are in the 110 to 140 mph category for major segments.. The fare is
modest. Venice to Florence costs $60 and $48
first and second class one way. Alitalia, the
Italian airline, charges $128 for the trip. Rail
We have been addressing two types of
trains in service in Germany and Italy: the
standard TGV/ICE high-speed train and the tilting train.
The situation gets more complicated in Spain.
The reason: there are also two
track gauges in use. Historically, Spanish
railroads have used 1668 mm gauge tracks, or 5 feet 5 2/3 inches. Most trains still use those tracks.
Beginning in 1986 Spain created a
project known as AVE (Alta Velocidad Espanola or Spanish High Speed) to take
advantage of the gains made by the TGV in France and to take steps to connect to the
European system, whose gauge universally is 4 feet 8 ½ inches. In 1988 an order was placed with a French firm to
build 24 TGV-type trainsets to run on a new standard gauge line between Madrid and Seville
at a top speed of 186 mph.
Average speed has been 131 mph over
the almost 300 miles.
The line between Barcelona and
Valencia is being upgraded to high-speed status, but it is wide gauge. 6 AVE broad gauge trainsets have been ordered.
Planning has been completed for a
high-speed line north from Madrid to Segovia. The
gauge was not stated in the literature. Of
note is the fact that 8 of the 15 tracks in the main Madrid terminal are standard gauge
and 7 broad gauge.
In the summer of 1999 Spain
introduced Alaris tilting trains on the broad gauge line from Madrid to Valencia on the
Mediterranean. This has been a very busy
route, generating much revenue. Ten Pendolino
trainsets were ordered from the British builder Alsom and Fiat working as a consortium. Some of the 306 miles of track have been upgraded
to make it suitable for 125 mph operation. Speed
averages 95 mph.
British long-distance rail is
transitioning at least partially to privately operated systems, a departure from European
government-owned and operated systems. There
are two north-south main lines from London to Scotland. This paper will address only the
400-mile West Coast Main Line to Glasgow via Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham because
it is being privatized and is therefore the more interesting.
This line was electrified in the
mid-1960s. It has four tracks until it
reaches Scotland, two for fast trains and two for slow trains in both directions. No improvements have been made for years because
the line has been starved for funds, whereas the East Coast Main Line has been adequately
Richard Branson, the flamboyant owner
of Virgin Atlantic Airlines and other businesses, won a 15-year franchise in 1997 to
operate the line. The $100 million subsidy
Virgin received in 1998/99 will be reduced annually to zero and Virgin will begin paying
the government, about $180 million in 2006/7. Virgin
will invest about $3 billion in track and signaling improvements and in a fleet of 55
140-mph tilting trains. The line is a
curving, undulating railway passing through some of the most difficult terrain of any main
routes. Thus the tilting train is a good
choice instead of much more expensive roadbed realignment.
Britain will also invest almost $2
billion in the program. This is somewhat
ironic because this is the route where Britain made the first tests of the tilting train
in the early 1970s before abandoning the project; now
they are buying trains from Italy, which bought the technology.
The current average speed for the
London-Glasgow trip is 75 mph. By 2005 this
will increase to 105 mph, cutting an hour and a half off the travel time.
The remainder of the countries in the
world with high-speed rail in operation or in development are minor players, so they will
be covered in brief summary form.
210 mile upgraded line between Porto
and Lisbon. Broad gauge. 10 trainsets Pendolino tilting cars. Ultimate speed 140 mph. Planning 23-mile second high-speed line, standard
gauge, between Lisbon and new airport at Ota.
The Swiss have upgraded the lines
between Geneva, Basel, Lausanne and Zurich to operate its 24 Pendolino tilting trainsets
at half-hour frequencies. Top speed: 125 mph.
Tilting test trials began in the late
1960s. Two high-speed lines: Stockholm to Arlanda airport, 26 miles. 7 Pendolino trainsets for Arlanda Express.
Stockholm to Goteborg : 20 Pendolino trainsets, 125 mph.
October 1998 started operation on a
new 12-mile high-speed link north between Oslo and the new Gardermoen/Oslo airport at
ten-minute intervals. Alternate trains
continue 30 miles to Eidsvoll. This includes a 9-mile tunnel. Returning south, alternate trains continue 17
miles beyond Oslo to Asker. 16 3-car tilting
trainsets based on Swedish designs. Maximum
speed: 130 mph. However, average speed to the
airport is only 36 mph. Plans call for
service to Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger.
Finns have two high-speed routes: Helsinki to
Turku and Helsinki to Jyvaskyla, the latter
opened this month. Third generation Pendolino
tilting trains are built by Fiat
The Aussies have one narrow-gauge
high-speed line in Queesland between Brisbane and Cairns. Tilting trains are used. A second line, standard gauge, between Sydney and
Canberra is in the planning stage. TGV
railstock will be used.
South Korea is building a high-speed
line from Seoul to Pusan, about 300 miles. TGV
equipment, some built in Korea, will be used.
At a cost of $17 billion Taiwan is
developing a 220-mile high-speed roadbed the length of the island between Taipei and
Kaoshiung, the second largest city. Surprisingly,
because of the terrain and the population density, 87% of the line will be either in
tunnels or elevated. Trainsets incorporating
both TGV and ICE will be constructed.
First, lets talk about the one
success Amtrak has achieved in 30 years of operation, the Washington, D.C.-New York-Boston
route. It has captured almost half of the
traffic between the cities. The
Washington-New York segment is operated on the electrified line originally developed and
operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad. It used heavy rail and powerful locomotives for
passenger and freight service, but its speed was mediocre.
After Amtrak took over, it introduced the Metroliner, which improved the
speed, the frequency and the performance. Today
the Metroliners run about 15 trips per day in
each direction in three hours, at an average speed of 77 mph over the 230 miles. It stops only at Baltimore, Wilmington and
The other part of the Amtrak
Northeast Corridor route is from Boston to New York, over what was originally the New
Haven road. It had always been a second-class
roadbed, but Amtrak has improved the track and electrified New Haven to New York to
prepare for the introduction of its new high-speed Acela Express, which it has been
developing since 1995. In 1996 Amtrak ordered
18 trainsets from the consortium of Alsom, the experienced British manufacturer, and
Bombardier of Canada. Another large order was placed in 1998. These configurations, consisting of power units at
each end and 6 passenger cars, are similar to the TGV/ICEs except that they tilt. Their entry into service was very slow, because of
manufacturing problems, since they didnt start operation until early 2000.
Acela Express operates from
Washington to New York 11 times each day and on to Boston 8 times a day. Although Acela was advertised as reducing the
Washington-New York Metroliner trip from 3 hours to less than 2 ½ , that improvement has
not been realized; both require 3 hours. However, the Boston-New York has been reduced from
5 hours to 3 hours and a half.
and Acela require reservations. The Acela
round trip fare from Washington to New York is $288 and the trip takes 3 hours; Metroliner costs $244. For comparison airline fare is $407 and the flight
time is 1 hour 9 minutes. Amtrak is very
competitive when cost and total trip time are considered.
Amtrak has done a good job with
passenger comfort and all sorts of conveniences just as the other countries have done: conference tables, video and audio channel
plug-ins at each seat, improved food service, for example.
Included in first class fare are a meal and complimentary drinks. I wonder,
though, how the smoothness of the ride compares with TGV or ICE?
Elsewhere in the country Amtrak has
done a poor-to-miserable job of improving service.
I vividly remember an Amtrak trip
from San Bernardino to St. Louis. We left at
8:30 pm Friday to arrive at noon Sunday. That
already required a mental adjustment by one used to flying.
At midnight we arrived at Barstow, not half way across our own county in the
time it takes to fly 2000 miles to St. Louis. Another
example: one cannot take the train to San Francisco from any direction; you must debark at Oakland and get to San
Francisco the best way you can. And if you
want to take the Sunset Limited from LA
to Oakland or Portland or Seattle, be prepared to ride a bus to Bakersfield.
One negative factor beyond its
control has always been that Amtrak is at the mercy of the railroads from whom it leases
usage rights. The railroads have no incentive
to give the right-of-way to passenger service at the expense of their profitable freight
service. This is the way it has always been. Im still chuckling over a naïve letter to
the editor of the Los Angeles Times several weeks ago in which a Beverly Hills couple
suggested that to improve rail service, Congress should enact legislation requiring
freight trains always to take the sidings so passenger trains can pass; and secondly, that Amtrak should own its own
tracks! A mega-billion suggestion.
When US railroads are discussed, the
question invariably arises: Why cant we have service throughout the country
like Japan or France? There are two
basic reasons, in my opinion. The first is
geography and distance. Germany is only 13%
greater in area than New Mexico. Germany and
France combined are about the size of Arizona and New Mexico. If that
were the scope of our problem, we could match the best.
But instead of trips measured in the hundreds of miles, many of ours are in
the thousands of miles category. The second
basic reason is that our railroads are privately owned by a number of companies, even
after the recent mergers and consolidations. American
railroad operators have always promoted freight and barely tolerated passenger traffic,
which was usually money-losing. That mindset
There is no rail authority
corresponding to the central governments in other countries. Not only are railroads not subsidized by
governments, they pay huge taxes as a result of their
extensive real estate holdings, whereas the airlines are highly subsidized.
On the brighter side, there are a
number of regions in this country where high-speed trains could probably prosper, and a
number of states have agencies looking into the possibilities. Lets name some: Miami-Orlando-Tampa; Houston-San Antonio-Dallas; Chicago as the hub and St. Louis, Detroit, Cincinnati
and the Twin Cities as spokes; yes, San
Diego-Los Angeles-San Francisco-Sacramento. Each of these is within the 400-500 mile range
where high-speed rail can compete with the airlines. You will notice I have not included
the outrageous proposal for a high-speed train from Anaheim to Las Vegas, 95% of the cost
borne by California so Californians can deposit their money in Las Vegas.
Since 1993 California has had a High
Speed Rail Authority charged with studying the potential routes and funding for a
high-speed rail project from Los Angeles to San Francisco, with extensions to San Diego
and Sacramento. Three corridors have been
considered: US 101, I-5 and Route 99. The latest information I have indicates that the
Route 99 inland route is favored because it also provides service to Bakersfield, Fresno
and other valley cities. Here are some of the
findings: $20.7 billion to construct; LA-SF
fare: $40; average speed 160 mph; times: LA-SF 2:49; LA-SD 1:12.
Japan, France and Germany have shown that
high-speed rail can compete with other modes of transportation, especially the airplane,
when trips are about 500 miles or less and the cost is sufficiently lower to compensate
for the somewhat greater end-to-end travel time.
The United States has only begun to
develop high-speed rail, and then only with the moderate-speed Acela Express and only in
What is holding back the development of
high-speed rail in this country?
Much greater inter-city
cost-per-mile of new dedicated roadbed
Fragmented ownership of
Historic distaste for
passenger service by railroad managements
No national imperative to
improve rail service
is under Congressional mandate to break even in the next few years, and that doesnt
appear to be possible. The future of passenger service in this country looks bleak.